The Myth of Johnson v. M’Intosh


In this Comment, the author considers the popular critique of the Great Case of Johnson v. M’Intosh as racist myth-making. After unpacking Johnson’s uncomfortable marriage of conquest and discovery, Seifert juxtaposes the opinion with Virgil’s Aeneid, western literature’s most famous, and famously ambivalent, establishment narrative. This comparison compels a different theoretical approach to the case. That approach, based on David Hume’s custom-based theory of property, shields Johnson from the Lockean rhetoric of many critics. Johnson, then, is a myth, mixing history with theory to precipitate a national narrative, but it is a myth birthed by sympathy and skepticism as much as by political pragmatism.

By uclalaw